When social media creator Drea Okeke (@dreaknowsbest) started making videos, it was just as a fun, stress-relieving activity. Yet by the time she graduated, working as an engineer and making videos, it was clear content creation had become more than a pastime.
“My heart was not fully [in engineering],” Okeke, who has 6.2 million followers on the platform, tells In The Know by Yahoo. “When I would go on the weekends and see all these creators and what they’re doing with their lives through social media, it was like this is my calling.”
Okeke was driving back and forth from Perris, Calif. to Los Angeles every weekend, 140 miles round trip. She was working in a warehouse as an engineer during the day — putting her engineering degree from Penn State to use — and driving to Los Angeles to live out dreams of becoming a content creator on the weekends.
“I was like two hours from L.A,” Okeke said. “I would work my 40 hours a week schedule at the warehouse, and then on the weekends I would drive to L.A. in my Nissan to go collaborate with different creators, go attend hosting classes [and] really try to improve my social media career.”
Unlike her friends who decided to drop out of school to become creators full time, she decided to stay in college and pursue both paths. Dropping out of school also wasn’t an option, as it would have broken a family rule.
“The requirement with my dad is that everyone has to have an undergrad and a master’s degree,” Okeke said.
So she stayed in school and left with her Bachelor’s degree. She would eventually go back to school to get a Master’s degree in Entrepreneurship and Innovation from USC, which she used to help her grow her creator skill set.
Taking the Leap
Okeke had a solid foundation when it came to building her career. A few years prior, she grew her Vine page to over 700,000 followers. Yet, when Vine ceased to exist, she lost all of her followers. She began to have doubts about the looming task of starting over.
However, she had two things in her favor. The first was that she was in a group chat with some of the biggest creators at that time, including King Bach, Liza Koshy and Lele Pons. Because several people in her circle were making it, she was inspired to keep going.
Secondly, TikTok was beginning to grow as a legitimate app for short-form creators.
“When TikTok came around, I was able to come on Tiktok and really just show up as myself — posting videos about my height, posting videos about my culture [and] posting videos that were true to me,” she said.
Okeke comes from an immigrant household of six, including three siblings. Her family moved from Nigeria to New York City when she was still in elementary school. However, in Nigeria she was in fifth grade. When she got to the United States, they put her in second grade. She had a different culture than the other kids and was tall for her age, leading to her getting bullied.
Yet, her love and appreciation for her culture never wavered. In fact, when she began making content — especially on TikTok — her cultural videos were the ones that gained the most popularity. It’s easy for her to shine a light on her culture, but the challenge is to make sure she isn’t poking fun at it.
One of her most popular videos was “Teaching celebrities Nigerian slang” in which she taught some of the biggest names in entertainment Nigerian slang at the 2022 BET Awards. That was a simple video to make, and it performed well, but there were some criticisms on the backend, particularly for a video that took on her country’s accent.
“When I’m doing things that have to do with my culture, I try to make it in a way that is not derogatory,” she said. “The reason why I started to pull back on doing the accent challenge is because some Nigerians took it as ‘You’re trying to make it seem like Nigerians don’t pronounce things correctly’ and that was never my intention.”
From having to rebuild her following to making sure her culture isn’t depicted in a negative light, Okeke has had to deal with a lot in her career. Despite being a woman of color in comedy, Okeke feels she’s had a fair opportunity to be herself and thrive.
“For me, I’ve been fortunate enough to build a community that supports me,” she said. “My story is the testimonial to be a female in comedy and be successful.”
Branching out for more
Even though she feels her path hasn’t been as tough as other female comedians, she has experienced challenges when it comes to branching out.
“The only challenge comedians do face — at least that I face — is when I’m trying to break out from that comedy space,” Okeke said. “They don’t take me seriously.”
Since the beginning of her career, Okeke has dealt with the challenge of showing her entire self. She describes the early part of her journey as a “Hannah Montana world” in which the engineering and comedic sides of herself struggled to co-exist.
Okeke has ventured into posting fashion videos, motivational videos and even has a “Level Up with Drea” course that gives viewers tips on how to succeed on social media. She says she sometimes feels trapped in a proverbial comedy box, bringing in an uncomfortable feeling in her stomach when it comes to posting those types of videos, as she isn’t sure if people want to see her in that light.
“In the hierarchy of social media, the beauty and lifestyle creators definitely do get the higher budgets,” she said. “Comedians do get paid, …but the ‘stuck in a box’ problem is real.”
Even as she ventures into different avenues, her influence from comedic videos isn’t lost.
“To see the people that are watching it and what it means to them, and them thanking me for putting the culture on, I’m like, ‘Wow. This is the impact I was trying to make.’”
Drea’s comedic prowess, versatility and influence have made her a trailblazer in the space and provided her with a full circle moment. She now has a deal with Nissan, which gave her a 2022 Nissan Pathfinder to replace the Altima she was driving back and forth on the weekends at the start of her career.
While sometimes success and notoriety can come unexpectedly, however, this was all a part of the plan for Okeke. She wrote in her journal at 12 years old that she wanted fame, fortune, and to make a positive impact in people’s lives.
“If all fails, I’ll be an engineer. But all worked out.”
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